L'Association de botanique et de mycologie de Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, my local field naturalists' club, had an outing to le domaine de la Gilberdiere, an organic farm near Rilly-sur-Vienne on 17 June. It was widely advertised in the paper and local newsletters as an outing to see orchids so the event was attended by as many general public non-members as botanising members. I was introduced to some people with 'see, we even have Australians coming' and there was a very animated and loud African man, who had clearly organised a group to come along to the outing.
We headed for a limestone butte which is now dominated by juniper bushes. These sorts of sites are always incredibly rich botanically, as the grass in the clearings between the juniper is full of things you simply never see anywhere else. Everywhere you looked there was Fairy Flax, Narrow-leaved Flax (producing a few rather feeble jokes about feeding the world with linseed), and 7 species of orchid in flower. This is one of the few places that the Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia conopsea and the Short-spurred Fragrant Orchid G. odoratissima grow together and produce a hybrid now stable enough to be considered a separate species, the Pyrenean Fragrant Orchid G. pyrenaica. (One of the other places all three occur is at Chaumussay, just down the road from us.) Also on the ridge were several species of butterfly that you don't see anywhere but these chalky grasslands.
From the top of the butte you could see for miles, across to Richelieu (I think - I got thoroughly lost between Sainte-Maure and the farm, so I'm not quite sure exactly what direction we were facing). On the lower slopes there was a large sand extraction operation, with several pits. Sand is one of the by-products of these limestone buttes. As everything but the hard limestone capping the butte decays, the lower slopes get a layer of sand. Jean commented that it was a shame about the pit, I guess because these lower slopes get heavily exploited one way or another.
PS Getting lost on the way home meant that I got to travel on some nice country roads in our neighbouring département of Vienne and got to see the new roadside panneaux which say 'Protégeons la flore en borde de route'. These are part of a campaign to stop people pulling up on the side of the road and damaging the flora by squashing, trampling or picking, which in turn is part of a wider campaign to educate people about the sensitive management of rural verges. I was alerted to the signs a few days earlier by my friend Sweetpea, who lives in Angles-sur-l'Anglin, where some of the signs have been installed. I'm hoping to write more about this at some stage.